In a sensational and dramatic defection which rocked the Formula Vee racing fraternity to the core, on 30 September 2011 I announced through my management team that I would no longer be driving for GAC Motorsport, and would finish the season in an alternative car with a different racing team. The press release (which was picked up by various news agencies around the world) is shown below:
“EPPS TO DRIVE LION; CRICHTON TAKES SEAT AT O-SPORT
Mr Mike Epps (Mr Michael Crichton’s younger and more successful team-mate) has requested to drive the Little Yellow Lion for the final two rounds of the Formula Vee season at Cadwell Park in a bid to win the Championship in his maiden year of car racing. This is due to the fact Epps considers the Little Yellow Lion to be a superior beast to Epps’ current car.
While Crichton wanted to finish the season in the Little Yellow Lion, due to the fact that Crichton is a Bloody Good Bloke (and that he doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning the Championship), Crichton has decided to let Epps drive the Little Yellow Lion for the remainder of the season to assist Epps with Epps’ Championship race.
Crichton will compete in the final two rounds at Cadwell Park on 8th and 9th of October and the 2011 Vee Fest on 22 October with O-Sport, the professional and tight knit father/son team of Tony and Jake Oliveira. Crichton wishes Epps and GAC Motorsport all the best for the remainder of the season and hopes Epps will win the Championship”.
Say farewell to the Little Yellow Lion.
Please join me in paying tribute to the Little Yellow Lion for the good times we shared by watching the video below. Please note this is over three minutes of emotionally charged footage, so be prepared.
The Grand Finale.
Rounds 13 and 14 were held at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th October 2011, with a practice day on Friday 7th October. Basically Epps needed to win both races to win the Championship, or for the current leader to crash out of one of the races. On the other hand, I had finally conceded that I was not going to win the Championship.
In a welcome return to racing after a couple of months spent partying in Ibiza, Downsey was also competing at Cadwell Park. Downsey’s Mum and Dad were over from Australia and had come out to the track for the weekend to support Downsey and me.
Dinner Party Dilemma.
Unfortunately, my social diary co-ordinator (Kat) had inconveniently double booked me on the Thursday night before the race weekend, for which she received a good, hard spanking.
I had a dinner party in London that I was supposed to be attending, as well as having accommodation booked in a hotel near the track in Lincolnshire (about three hours from London).
So as a work-around, I decided to go to the dinner party and ride my motorbike up to the track afterwards.
I made a sensational departure from the dinner party at about midnight after declaring myself as the next Steve McQueen, followed by riding off into the darkness.
However, in a classic case of getting carried away by the moment and not thinking something through properly, I hadn’t anticipated that it might be cold and wet on the journey. It was cold and wet on the journey.
So by the time I arrived at the hotel at 3am, I was saturated, freezing and close to tears.
Downsey, being the good sport that he is, came down to reception (semi-naked, semi-asleep and with a semi) to greet me in my soggy motorcycle leathers and lead me back to his room, much to the suspicion of the night porter.
Say hello to the Little Black Panther.
The Little Black Panther is a sexy little beast. It is the pin-up car of Formula Vee. As I am the self-proclaimed pin up driver of Formula Vee, we were a match made in heaven.
The Little Black Panther is a Storm chassis, which was apparently designed by a Dutch guy who had a dream one night that he wanted to build a Formula Vee racing car. As you do. So anyway, he went out and built one. It was crap. But then the Oliveira’s got hold of the Storm and fixed its problems.
Now the Storm has a reputation for being a sweet handling and joyful car to drive. In fact this car was driven by another guy who won a race in it earlier this season. So I knew I had a car which was capable of winning races.
However, as I had learned with the Little Yellow Lion, having a car with the capability to win races does not automatically translate into actually winning races.
Cadwell Park is the longest circuit we have raced on this year (2.2 miles), and it has everything that you could want in a race track. The top bit of the track (as shown below) is fast and free-flowing like the Spa Francorchamps track in Belgium, and the bottom bit is tight and twisty like the street circuit of Monaco.
Downsey and I arrived at the track early on Friday morning for a track walk to get an understanding of the circuit.
My feelings about driving the new car with O-Sport were reminiscent of the first time I drove the Little Yellow Lion at Mallory Park all that time ago i.e. nervous, excited, and bi-curious. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Everything went brilliantly for the first couple of sessions of the day. As I’d hoped, the Little Black Panther was a great car to drive; it handled similarly to the Little Yellow Lion (i.e. brilliantly), the brakes were fantastic, and the engine had heaps of power. So far, so good.
The track itself is amazing to drive on. The twisty top section requires a high degree of precision car control, and the sweeping bottom half requires balls of steel to keep your foot planted. Luckily I am a precision car control specialist and some say my balls have been forged from titanium, so (initially) the track posed no major problems for me. See below for a lap of this gorgeous circuit.
But then, four major disasters occurred over the course of the weekend that changed everything.
Disaster 1 – Catastrophic Engine Failure.
My engine troubles in the Little Yellow Lion have been well documented; I have scattered the remains of numerous engines at various tracks all over the UK. I had hoped that I could get through this final race weekend in the new car without breaking an engine. But sadly, more engine troubles were just around the corner.
In the third practice session of the day, as I powered out of the hairpin in second gear and the engine reached about 65000RPM, there was a loud bang, followed by silence, interrupted by some jangly metallic noises coming from the engine of my car. Even with my complete lack of mechanical expertise, I knew that the Little Black Panther had just experienced a Catastrophic Engine Failure. I rolled into the pit lane and waited to be towed back to the pits; a routine I had become painfully accustomed to over the course of the season.
As can be gathered by the sound in the video above, the engine had gut-wrenchingly, monumentally crapped itself. Upon inspection of the engine, the seriousness of the damage was clearly visible – a hole the size of a 50p coin had appeared in the engine. It looked like someone had shot it with a gun. A big gun. Downsey’s mum was both intrigued and excited by the large hole in my engine. But being a veteran of blowing up engines, I was unable to share in her excitement; this was just another one to add to the scrapheap.
Luckily, Tony and Jake had another car at the track that I was able to drive. This meant that I would not (in theory) lose any driving time in the final sessions of the day, and importantly I still had a car to drive in the two races that weekend. However, I had not anticipated Disaster 2 (see below).
Disaster 2 – Lost me Nuts.
So I was all set to drive the Little Black Panther#2 in the next practice session. However, before completing even one lap in the new car, it began to behave very strangely. The car started vibrating and bouncing up and down like some sort of enormous black dildo. I decided it was best to pull into the pits to investigate.
Tony and Jake ran over to find out what was wrong. I explained the car was behaving like an enormous black dildo. Upon investigation, the cause of the problem was discovered. The left rear wheel was being held on by just one lonely little wheel-nut, the other wheel-nuts having gone walkabout.
The remaining practice sessions passed without incident, but if I’m honest I had lost a bit of faith and so I took it pretty easy around the track in order to preserve myself and the car for the next day. I needn’t have worried though; little did I know I was suffering from a complex known as the FormulaVoedipus Complex and as such my fate was sealed.
Disaster 3 –Rear Ending.
Qualifying was at 10:30am on Saturday. The first couple of laps in qualifying went well. The car was feeling strong; I was feeling strong. I was following the championship leader and I knew that if I could stick with him, I’d be able to set a quick time.
However, disaster struck on the third lap. I ran wide on Park Corner, which allowed the car behind to overtake me. Going into Mansfield Corner the car now in front braked very early and very hard. I reacted by jumping on the brakes and managed to slow the car down, but I only narrowly avoided hitting him.
This should have served as a warning to be careful of this turkey in front of me. Unfortunately, I did not take heed of that warning.
He braked extraordinarily early going up the Mountain. When I realised I was heading right for him, I slammed on the brakes. But I was going too fast, it was too late, and as a result I gave that turkey a stuffing he probably won’t forget in a while.
I apologised to the turkey after qualifying (because there’s no excuse for rear ending him) but I maintain that he contributed to the incident by braking incredibly early and hard on a fast and difficult section of the track in the middle of our qualifying session.
In the five minutes of qualifying that I participated in, my two best lap times were 1 minute 44.76 seconds and 1 minute 46.91 seconds, which put me 14th on the grid for both races. Pretty crap.
Despite starting 14th for both races, I was feeling confident and fired up after the eventful qualifying session. Luckily the car wasn’t damaged beyond repair and Tony and Jake were able to fix it in time for the race.
Disaster 4 – Catastrophic Engine Failure#2.
And now for the mac-daddy: another Catastrophic Engine Failure, this time on the warm-up lap before the first race. This meant that I did not get to start either of the races that weekend because I had broken all of the cars at my disposal.
Here’s how this one happened: I spun the wheels coming over the Mountain on the warm-up lap. The engine revved to 7500RPM, at which point the rev-limiter kicked in, which is supposed to prevent engine damage from over-revving. But the rev-limiter did not do its job. The engine made a fluttering noise, followed by the horrible sound of metal upon metal.
At that point I knew all was not well with the Little Black Panther#2. As I rolled around on to the pit straight (where everyone was forming up to start the race) the engine conked out (apologies for my use of technical jargon). I tried to roll off the track as far as possible.
The lights went red, and the race started. The cars streamed past me. Downsey went past me. But I remained motionless in the Little Black Panther#2. The stewards ran over, pushed me into the pits, and I watched the race and cheered on Downsey in the Silver Bullet and Epps in the Little Yellow Lion from the pit wall.
As suspected, after the race Tony and Jake confirmed that the engine was completely stuffed, and nothing could be done to get the car going for the race the following day. My weekend was over before it ever started.
And what of Downsey? Well Downsey had a good weekend. Except for one incident during qualifying: there was a yellow flag due to a car which had run up the ass of another car during qualifying and had stopped on the side of the track (that would be me – refer Disaster 3 above). Due to the danger an incident like that poses to the other cars on the track, the marshalls wave a yellow flag to alert the other cars to slow down, and be prepared to stop because the track could be blocked.
However, Downsey must have thought that a yellow flag meant drive as fast as you can regardless of any danger on the track, because he managed to have a monumental spin going up the Mountain under yellow flag conditions. After qualifying the following announcement boomed out over the loudspeaker:
“Attention please race paddock, attention please. Would the driver of car number 66 in the Formula Vees, that’s driver of car number 66 in the Formula Vees, please come to race control IMMEDIATELY”.
Downsey is car number 66 in the Formula Vees. Intrigued, Downsey trotted off to race control to find out what the officials wanted. I’m not sure what he said but it must have been convincing (Downsey’s a great lawyer) because he was released with no further penalty. When I asked him what was said, he simply told me with a solemn look on his face ‘let us never speak of this again’. Downsey qualified 20th out of 21 cars.
After this little hiccup during qualifying, Downsey had a great race on the Saturday and was cheered on by his parents (and me from the pit wall) to finish a solid 17th out of 21 cars. Downsey didn’t compete in the race on Sunday but still managed to finish a respectable 42nd overall in the 2011 Formula Vee Championship. Well done Downsey.
Epps – Vice Champion in the Little Yellow Lion.
Epps qualified 2nd (behind the championship leader) in both races with qualifying times of 1 minute 38.95 seconds and 1 minute 40.59 seconds respectively. He finished 3rd in both races on Saturday and Sunday in the Little Yellow Lion. Full race results can be found here.
This meant that Epps was runner up in the 2011 Formula Vee Championship. Despite not winning the title, this was still an amazing achievement in Epps’ first year of racing cars, and one he should be very proud of. Well done Mike Epps.
Epps’ title is ‘Vice Champion’. I can only imagine that this means if the Champion is ever ill, Epps will be there to step into his shoes and take over ceremonial duties.
Season and Game Over.
I broke two engines beyond repair, ran into the back of another car during qualifying, and nearly lost a wheel during practice. It had not been a successful first weekend racing with O-Sport in the Little Black Panther, and it had not been a good end to the season.
After all the bullshit’s been said and done, I finished 25th in the 2011 Formula Vee driver championship out of 54. Although slightly misleading because I didn’t compete in quite a few of the races (and so therefore missed out on a lot of points), this was not the stunning result I had (a) hoped for, (b) expected, and (c) told everyone about before the start of the season. But the season had been lots of fun and I had learnt a lot about racing, blowing up engines and editing go-pro videos on iMovie. I’ve got no doubt that if I compete next year, I will be competitive from the start of the season.
But perhaps most importantly, I can now rest easy knowing that I am not the prodigious racing talent I suspected I may have been, and as such I haven’t squandered a career in Formula One by chasing the glory associated with being a lawyer. Phew.
Michael Crichton, Racing Car Driver.